The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Twelve: Characteristics of the Overcomer - Willing to Suffer

The second characteristic we wish to consider covers a very broad field. It is seen in one form or another on many of the pages of the New Testament. The topic is really worthy of an entire book, so we can only pray that this overview will make an appropriate impact upon the reader.

Willingness to suffer

Our Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth with a heart willing to suffer in order to accomplish God’s will. He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3b, KJV). As His followers, we also should be willing to suffer in order to carry out God’s will for our lives. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who...emptied Himself...and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).

A word of caution is in order here. There have been some Christians who have misunderstood the matter of suffering in the Christian life. In their attempt to “follow Christ” in suffering, they have practiced asceticism of various kinds. However, the Bible clearly warns us that self-imposed suffering and mere religious self-denial are of no value (Col. 2:20-23). We should also be cautious of focusing on Christian suffering in a morbid way.

The correct understanding of suffering in the Christian life connects our suffering with God’s will. As we shall see, we should be willing to suffer loss to our desires for the purpose of carrying out God’s will for us. This was Christ’s example in the garden of Gethsemane, where His willingness to go to the cross and suffer hinged upon God’s will. “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). Also, our suffering circumstances should be according to God’s will in His sovereign arrangement, not something we engineer because we think such suffering will make us more “spiritual” (see 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).

Let’s look at one passage where Jesus taught on the matter of willingness to suffer:

21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests [lit., “the things of God”], but man’s. 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matt. 16:21-27)

Here we see that Peter was a stumbling block to Jesus, an adversary to Him. The Greek word for Satan means adversary. The problem was Peter’s mindset. Peter did not think that Jesus should suffer as the Messiah, and he did not want Jesus to suffer. Peter’s mindset was that God should exalt Christ as King without suffering. But God’s way was to send Christ to suffer in order to accomplish His plan. The natural mind of man does not grasp God’s way of the cross – the way of suffering – the way of dying to self - in order to carry out God’s will (1 Cor. 1:18-24; 2:14). The expanded translation by Kenneth Wuest reads: “A stumbling block you are to Me, because you do not have a mind for the things of God but for the things of men” (v. 23). The word for mind here includes not only the mental capacity, but also the desires and the will of man’s inner being.

The basic problem here is man’s unwillingness to suffer the loss of his own desires having their fulfillment. To deny the self means to be willing to let go of what makes one’s self happy and satisfied – to have his desires fulfilled. To then take up the cross includes not only death to the self, but also the embracing of God’s will. This is what Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane, when He put aside His will and prayed to accept the Father’s will (the cross). “Yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).

The Greek word for “life” (v. 25) in the passage above is psuche, which means soul. The same word is translated “soul” in verse 26. Although the word for “himself” in verse 24 is not psuche, it refers to the same thing in the passage. This is proven by the context and by the parallel passage in Luke 9, where Luke 9:25 speaks of forfeiting “himself,” yet Matt. 16:26 speaks of forfeiting the “soul.” Thus, to deny the self means to lose one’s life, or soul. Yet, when we do this, we then “find” our real life (v. 25). That is, we then discover the real satisfaction of our soul in Christ’s life, both now and in reward at the coming of Christ (v. 27).

The meaning of saving, or preserving, the soul is to let it have its satisfaction, fulfilling the soul’s desires, as seen in the notion of gaining the whole world (v. 26), if it were possible. To lose one’s soul means to suffer the loss of what satisfies, or makes the soul, or self, happy. Only when we are willing to give up what pleases us can we accurately see God’s will for us and follow Christ. This is a voluntary suffering by the disciple of Christ. This is what it means to “die to self.”

The following examples of pleasing or dying to the self are very limited in their scope, but they will provide some insight into the matter of pleasing the soul’s desires. The next lesson will cover a much broader view of this matter.

I will never forget an experience I had as a fairly young Christian. I had taken some seminary courses and had some experience with the Lord, but I still had much to learn. I was part of a church that had a good spiritual ministry and had many real seekers of the Lord. One day I was spending time with an elder who had sort of taken me under his wing. We visited some young college students who had been attending our church from time to time.

After the visit he turned to me and commented about one young man. He stated plainly that this particular young man would never become a lasting member of our congregation. The reason he was so bold to predict this was that he discerned that the young man liked his life style too much to pay the price to follow Christ as hotly as we were doing. He was a Christian, true enough, but from his comments about how much he liked to dine at certain places, and how much he enjoyed certain leisure activities, the wise elder could tell that the critical element of self-denial was missing in his Christian walk. The elder’s prediction turned out to be completely accurate. That young man never joined us in our pursuing of the Lord, although some of his friends did.

Please understand that we are not talking about “rules for holy living.” What is at issue is the heart’s willingness to suffer loss to the pleasures of the soul. Whether or not we actually do forego some pleasure is absolutely a matter of the leading of the Holy Spirit (God’s will). Again I want to point out that Christ’s acceptance of the suffering of the cross altogether depended upon what God’s will was. As we are willing to not please ourselves and do just what God permits, then God will make clear to us what He allows or disallows.

Actually, as we learn to continually deny ourselves and grow in Christ’s life, remaining in close fellowship with Him, His desires become ours. Then, it is not just a matter of His specific leading about what He permits or disallows, but the very desires of our heart undergo transformation. Also, as we truly mature in Christ, the strong desires that used to propel us towards avenues of obtaining their satisfaction often seem to lose their power and intensity.

Let me give an illustration of what I am talking about from my experience. Fairly early in my Christian life I saw that some believers in the fellowship I belonged to had some nice Bible covers. I began to feel that I would like a really nice one too. As I began to consider this, and perhaps even started out to buy one, I was very bothered by the Holy Spirit. Something was not right. The more I progressed towards buying a Bible cover the more I felt my fellowship with the Lord was undergoing disruption. Peace was leaving me. As I sought to understand this experience from the Lord, I realized that I had wanted a Bible cover as a “show off” item. The desire for the Bible cover had self-glory as its root, and it was not a desire from the Lord. I yielded to the Lord and did not buy the Bible cover.

Please allow me to share one more experience that may be helpful. Perhaps a year or two after the experience just noted, I moved into an apartment that I was to share with two other young single Christian men. We did not have much furniture, so I went out and purchased a dining room table and some living room furniture. Then, I decided that I wanted some dishes that matched the brown furniture. As I began to move in the direction of shopping for the dishes, the Holy Spirit bothered me. I had no peace and there was a real battle within. We probably had some dishes that would do, but my soul was longing for something of particular beauty, and that longing was infringing upon my love of God. I was loving the things of this world (1 Jn. 2:15), and the Holy Spirit was signaling me that my direction was not pleasing to the Lord. I yielded to the Lord and gave up my desire to buy the dishes.

At the time that I had the two experiences above I was really seeking the Lord and desiring to please Him. If you have never had any experience like this, then it may well be because you have not been seeking the Lord with all of your heart.

Now, many years later, after having lived in a state of willingness to suffer loss to my soul’s desires in order to please Christ, I find that I do not have strong interruptions from the Holy Spirit like those noted above. I still get interruptions from the Lord when the self rises up, but nothing like the tussles that I had back then. Rather, I find that the desires of my soul to please itself are usually (not always) overpowered by Christ within before they can surge into great strength. We should grow in the grace of Christ and in the experience of Christ as our very life (Col. 3:4).

We must realize that our fallen soul is pleased by many things, and if we allow it to have its satisfaction unchecked by the Spirit within us, then we will not experience the overcoming life in Christ. In the next lesson we will cover some aspects of this matter of “dying to self.”

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)